These letters appear in the Jan. 23 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.
Uniformity Would Ease Safe Food Transportation
Eric Miller’s feature on the Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA, highlights a welcome challenge for the transportation industry. The Food and Drug Administration rule on sanitary transportation of human and animal food gave shippers, carriers, warehousing firms and others the flexibility they sought. Now everyone must figure out what to do with that flexibility.
FDA has outlined broadly what shippers and their agents, such as brokers, and carriers must accomplish in areas such as cleanliness of equipment, worker training, record-keeping, prevention of cross-contamination and temperature control to keep food safe to eat. The final rule recognized that the goal is safe food, not detailed procedural specifications that might conflict with existing practices that are as good or better than regulatory standards. The agency understood that dictating unnecessary changes to effective existing practices could be disruptive and expensive.
So FDA largely left it to the supply chain to delegate food safety best practices to their transportation partners. Individual shippers can set their own standards by contract that encompass both FDA’s safety requirements and customers’ expectations for quality. Applying shipper-specific standards to spot- market freight, which is common in the hauling of produce, will be difficult, however. A sizable carrier might be able to review the myriad potential new contract provisions, but that task would overwhelm small carriers, which represent a big chunk of the market.
Consider just the U.S. refrigerated market, even though the FDA rule also covers many dry van and tank shipments as well as perishable food shipments into the United States from Canada and Mexico. The U.S. spot market moves about 19 million refrigerated loads a year, according to data from transportation analysis firm FTR. Among about 40,000 active U.S. authorized for-hire refrigerated food carriers, those with fewer than 10 trucks represent about 89% of carriers and about 19% of power units, according to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration data. Small carriers’ share of the refrigerated spot market specifically probably is much higher.
Without some measure of uniformity — especially in the spot market — the FSMA obligations could bog down the booking process and put small refrigerated carriers at a serious competitive disadvantage. One solution is the Uniform Food Safety Transportation Protocol, which TransComply announced in December after consultation with refrigerated and agricultural carriers, brokers, shippers, warehousing firms, and transportation attorneys.
The protocol is modeled loosely on the Uniform Intermodal Interchange & Facilities Access Agreement, which helps the intermodal transportation segment manage what otherwise would be a nightmare of varying contract terms and obligations. Drawing on industry customs and best practices, the protocol establishes minimum compliance standards that shippers can delegate to brokers and carriers and incorporate by reference into long-term and spot-market agreements and into load confirmation sheets.
The measures covered by the Uniform Food Safety Transportation Protocol should be enough in most cases, but shippers and intermediaries could easily incorporate it by reference and add any load-specific requirements for record-keeping, trailer washout, precooling, etc.
Carriers will participate in the protocol by committing contractually to abide by its terms and paying a nominal annual fee. Through the protocol website, shippers and intermediaries will be able to confirm that carriers are signatories and are authorized, licensed and insured.
The protocol certainly isn’t the only potential solution, but any solution must come quickly for the sake of supply chain efficiency and the financial stability of thousands of small carriers.
Governments Need To Do a Better Job
Government officials look at issues on a broad scope and jump to conclusions that they feel will solve issues, mainly through laws. Hours of service and electronic logging devices are issues that come to mind.
While I am not for or against any of these issues, I do hear from carriers that these officials cause as many problems as they are supposed to cure. Small carriers suggest that ELDs will cause more driver shortages, and larger carriers suggest that higher rates are needed.
The driver shortage is a clear-cut issue that has flummoxed government officials, who instead of doing too much — as is often the case — they have done nothing. This is one area to which they could provide assistance but have failed to get involved.
They have allowed insurance companies to abandon carriers and forced incorrect vetting of drivers due to age. As a result, carriers are using only experienced drivers. These drivers are retiring or passing away, and with each loss, there is a problem finding a replacement. Driver schools train people who want to earn a commercial driver license, but carriers could not hire them because of demands by insurance companies.
Governments say they are trying to assist freight movement but tend to do the opposite. Surely, governments believe they are doing the best job possible, but with a lack of understanding of the issues from a business perspective, they often fail to achieve their goals. They enact laws that hamper growth and cost the industry money on wasted efforts.
This is the time in history to prove that the less government involvement the better the results within obvious boundaries.
Government serves a great purpose. We are blessed to have the best government in the world, and we all understand that guidelines are important. However, when they exceed guidelines they make it difficult to all involved.
I truly believe that this country’s governments attempt to do the best job they can. However, the issues are so vast that they try to solve problems without having complete knowledge of the issue, and thus laws and regulations are enacted that are meant to help but fail to help the industry.
I expect 2017 to be a year of success for the manufacturing, transportation and logistics groups, and for all business.
Reo B. Hatfield
President of Corporate Services